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How Healthy Is the Average American Diet?


Just when many of us have long said goodbye to school and tests, it turns out that as a nation we are still being graded. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) gave Americans a report card in their special feature "The Changing American Diet." Unfortunately according to them, "if Americans want straight As, they've got a lot of work to do."  Our overall calorie consumption is slightly down, but the rest doesn’t look that great. Here is how the CSPI graded us.

Meat, Poultry, and Seafood: B
It seems red meat consumption is going down but is still higher than chicken and seafood combined. I'm curious as to what type of red meat consumption is decreasing because if most people were also swapping out high-fat beef with leaner cuts, that might warrant a higher mark. And if they were consuming more seafood that was fried, well that would deserve a lower grade.

Dairy: C-
According to CSPI we put cheese on everything and have gone from eight pounds per person per year in 1970 to 23 pounds. Low-fat yogurt is also booming, which I love because that might have at least given us a C. I do often remind my patients that cheese should be more of a snack food than a topping, or at least to use less when sprinkling on as a topping.

Grains: C
We are consuming around 109 pounds of flour per year, but unfortunately it isn't from 100-percent whole grains. Carbs are still getting a bad wrap and that is because the average American is still not willing to choose healthier ones. When will we learn?

RELATED: The Best Carbs for Weight Loss

Sweeteners: D+
Ouch. Our consumption is down since 1999, but still we seem to be enjoying soda and sweetened beverages way too much. If consumption is down, I would have at least given us a C- (I guess I am a more liberal grader). I wonder, though, how much of our consumptiom today has to do with coffee places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts?

Fats and Oils: B+
Consumption in this category has climbed over the years and fortunately it did not include shortening and margarine but rather more unsaturated oils. I'm definitely glad to see that we are consuming more healthier fats; however, from a weight perspective I think many are still consuming too much. More is not necessarily better in this category.

Fruits and Veggies: B-
Since the '80s this number has risen, but it seems now that it has reached a plateau and is is not quite where it needs to be. I will never understand why it is so hard for people to eat more fruits and veggies. For starters, make half your plate veggies with dinner, have fruit for dessert, and add berries to your morning cereal. Go food shopping, buy what’s in season, or buy frozen if you complain that they always go bad, and stop the excuses.

RELATED: 10 New Ways to Eat Kale

Milk: B
The good news is that we are choosing more fat-free and low-fat milk, but the average American is drinking eight fewer gallons of milk per year than they were in 1970. This decline has always been upsetting to me. I grew up with milk with meals and wish more children today did. As an adult I still enjoy a glass. I would be curious to see which beverage we have replaced it with, but then again I might find that more upsetting.

Personally I have always been that person in pursuit of As, so maybe that is why I am not thrilled by anything below a B+. I hope next year CSPI gives us better grades, but I also believe in small changes, and as long as a person is trying their best to improve that should also count a whole lot.


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